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Derek von Briesen | profile | all galleries >> West Clear Creek tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

West Clear Creek

everything about west clear creek is wild and remote!! itís absolutely nothing like the people-managed national park experience of so many other southwest photographic icons. rather, itís one of the most isolated watersheds in all northern arizona, in north america. It was here, in the eighties, along with the canyons surrounding zion, where modern canyoneering was born. this deep cleft in arizonaís mogollon rim, a two thousand foot escarpment & the last of the huge stepdowns that make up the grand staircase, is known for its technical side canyons, its steep and isolated access trails, and its hell-on-high clearance approach roads. (calling them roads is an insult to roads everywhere; theyíre more like ASSAULTS!!! . . . on your body, your patience, and the skidplates that youíre hopefully sporting to protect your transfer case and oil pan!!).

every part of this roughly thirty mile long watershed has its own character. The most isolated section is a twelve mile thru-hike over algae-covered rocks, requiring bushwacking and long swims, with no bailouts, phone signals and only rarely gps reception. In monsoon season, wrong choices can and have been fatal.

in other words, youíre on your own!! even day hiking, as you drop the 1200 vertical feet in less than twenty minutes and begin maneuvering up and down stream, one has a feeling of being really out there. rarely do you see other folks, save for the occasional trout fisherman and hardy hiker. you also wonít see the spring-spawned no see-ums . . . but if itís a bad year, you WILL know theyíre there!!. If youíre lucky youíll also miss the mosquitos, green Mojave rattlesnakes, poison ivy and enough thorny creekside foliage to scratch you silly, but itís not likely. you canít miss the treacherously slippery rock shelves upon which walking is mandatory to make any headway up or down stream. waist deep swims are likely and a watertight pack is de rigeur.

as is a good degree of fortitude, common sense, and great care. a zillion ways to go wrong and very few avenues for help other than your own wits. being prepared is a simple but lifesaving caveat emptor that bears repeating like a mantra!!

but the very wildness that demands relentlessly alert focus, is what makes west clear creek such an amazing experience. camping in the watershed is nothing short of stunning: from the dusk that lasts for hours as the sun descends below the thousand foot sandstone walls; to the animal noisesófrom the deep base rumblings at sunset of creek frogs whose sheer volume belies their small size, to the early morning sweet callings of the many varieties of birds; to the rarely seen but always felt animal presence (evidence abounds, for example nearly every major rock outcropping has some type of scat along with the ubiquitous empty crayfish shells where raccoons, coyotes, bears, and even cougars have obviously fed & tread); to the deep black skies and brilliant stars.

the hours of dusk, where soft, even lighting abounds, are usually windless, making for incredible reflections of the ultra green spring foliage and richly-hued sandstones in the long, wide & often deep (!) pools that back up behind the myriad cobblestone riffles.

long pools and riffles, a pattern that repeats itself for the entire length of the watershed. donít slip, keep your equipment dry, always be alert for rattlers, have water, food, and a layer or two, and be sure to save some energy for the insanely steep hike out. get in early, stay late, and wonder at the wild beauty of it all. For me, itís the wildest place i know, and i absolutely love it!!! I hope you enjoy this small sampling from this spring . . .